A convicted killer who fatally stabbed a former co-worker during a 1992 burglary used his last words Monday to speak directly to the parents of his victim, saying he forgave them "for your anger and hatred towards me." But the victim's parents refused to acknowledge the man who killed their son, instead focusing on the young man whom they called a blessing.
Charles Rhines was executed by lethal injection at 7:39 p.m., after the U.S. Supreme Court denied to halt his execution despite three late appeals.
"Ed and Peggy Schaeffer, I forgive you for your anger and hatred toward me," Rhines said, before thanking his defense team. "I pray to God that he forgives you for your anger and hatred toward me. Thanks to my team. I love you all, goodbye. Let's go. That's all I have to say. Goodbye."
Rhines, 63, ambushed 22-year-old Donnivan Schaefer in 1992 when Schaefer surprised him while he was burglarizing a Rapid City doughnut shop where Schaeffer worked. Rhines had been fired a few weeks earlier.
Rhines ambushed him, stabbing him in the stomach. Bleeding from his wound, Schaeffer begged to be taken to a hospital, vowing to keep silent about the crime; instead, he was forced into a storeroom, tied up and stabbed to death.
Steve Allender, a Rapid City police detective at the time of the killing who is now the city's mayor, said Rhines' jury sentenced him to death partly because of Rhines' "chilling laughter" as he described Schaeffer's death spasms.
"I watched the jury as they listened to the confession of Charles Rhines on audiotape and their reaction to his confession was appropriate. Any human being would be repulsed by the things he said and the way he said them," Allender told KELO.
The Schaeffers made clear they didn't want to talk about Rhines. Patty Schaeffer appeared before reporters holding a photo of her two sons, including Donnivan, as children, and then displayed a graduation photo of him.
"We were so blessed to have this young man in our family and in our life," she said. "Today is the day that we talk about Donavan, the guy who loved his family, his fiancé, and his friends."
Media witnesses to the execution said Rhines appeared calm, and it took only about a minute for the pentobarbital used by the state to take effect. They said when he finished speaking, he closed his eyes, then blinked, breathed heavily and died.
Rhines had challenged the state's use of pentobarbital, arguing it wasn't the ultra-fast-acting drug he was entitled to. A circuit judge ruled it was as fast or faster than other drugs when used in lethal doses and speculated that Rhines wanted only to delay his execution.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected that appeal, as well as his arguments that he was sentenced to die by a jury with an anti-gay bias and that he wasn't given access to experts who could have examined him for cognitive and psychiatric impairments.
Pentobarbital was used last year when , who killed a prison guard during a 2011 escape attempt. Berget was pronounced dead 12 minutes after the lethal injection began, and a transcript released afterward said Berget asked after the injection was administered: "Is it supposed to feel like that?" His comment prompted a national group that studies capital punishment to call on the state to release more details about the drug used.
After attending Schaeffer's funeral, Rhines moved to Seattle. Authorities thought the move was odd because Rhines had vowed to never return to Washington state, where he had spent time in prison. Allender said authorities initially interviewed Rhines and felt something was off, but Rhines wasn't arrested until four months later, after Rhines told his former roommate about the killing.
Rhines wrote to the Argus Leader in May 2013, saying that when he saw a grieving mother on the news in an unrelated case, he realized what he had done to Schaeffer's mother.
"Just at the cusp of her beloved child becoming an independent person, a responsible adult with a family and friends surrounding him and his mother waiting expectantly for grandchildren to spoil, having all that snatched away for almost no reason at all and the hole it has had to have left in her heart," he wrote. "Prosecutors talk of closure, but that wound will never close, no matter how long it is there."
Peggy Schaeffer, Donnivan's mother, rejected the words as insincere.
Schaeffer's family declined to speak with The Associated Press in advance of Rhines' execution. In June, when a judge scheduled the execution, Peggy Schaeffer told reporters, "This step was one big one for justice for Donnivan. It's just time."
In the afternoon, about 30 protesters gathered in snow flurries outside the state prison where Rhines was to be executed, praying and singing hymns. Denny Davis, director of South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said they accept Rhines' execution but hope to steer public opinion against capital punishment.
"It is about a culture shift and changing the values of people," he said. "Why would we want to put this person to death when society is already safe?"
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